Monthly Archives: October 2012


Amazon have got over their snit about someone (presumably an illegal fileshare) offering some of Eric and my shorts and novellas. So they’re back up on Kindle. Shortly we will I hope, start with Smashwords and become available on other platforms. B&N, Apple etc.

This story has, oddly been about our best selling, ahead of the the first RATS BATS & VATS prequel novella

And a long way ahead of the novella in the RBV universe, intended as a start to a new novel (which I still want to do)

And streets ahead of the short set Misty Lackey’s bards universe

It’s interesting that, without a major novel on offer yet (there is the YA WITHOUT A TRACE)

That Kindle and Smashwords are now providing 5% of my income. This is more of a comment about how utterly dismal my income from all the 17 novels is, than how wonderful indy is, I am afraid. But still, it’s very welcome. Hopefully I’ll be adding to it.

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behind the covers

Someone asked me a few days ago ‘Do you do much research for your books?’

Probably about 2-3 books full for each one I write, if I was to write it all down. Unless you’re quite mathematically challenged or believe books to be some kind of multi-dimensional portmanteau (which yes, some of them are. They take headspace from readers, which can add many dimensions) it’s fairly obvious that the point of research is to leave it out (but to get the setting, the background the underpinning right).

Then of course if your book is a straight story all you have to do is tell it, right?

For me the answer is a big no, probably because I couldn’t just tell a straight story to save my life. I’m such a plonker. You see all the other parts are important to me. Take the Heirs of Alexandria books – SHADOW OF THE LION et al. They’re Alternate History meets fantasy, and so the geography, the food, the people, the belief systems all have to be researched, and sometimes taken to their logical extension point. Then the characters (who are in some cases based on real historical figures. Only the names (and sometimes dates) have been changed to protect the guilty have to be researched, developed, dialogue sections so I can get a feel for them (there is a character sketch, with everything from hair color to emotional stability, likes, dislikes, favorite words and phrases. Yes. I am anal. Call me an arse. Just don’t scratch me). The layers get built, knowing the end point (possible) and the underlying setting… and in the case of these books the mythological tie in (each of the books is 1) A story; 2)Alternate History. It’s like a vast 3 d chess game, taking Occam’s razor and logic and possibilities.. If they did that back there, what would the situation be like here. What color are the carrots? What do people eat? who rules, what religions are there and how do they work? 3)a myth-retelling which has to fit in, usually blending several mythologies to achieve a ‘desired and logical’ outcome. I know Misty did some adding at the end of the last one and I haven’t been able to bear to read it, as I know she just doesn’t have the background reading to make it fit properly. Sigh. I’ll have to cope soon 4)A show-not-tell on my ideas on socio-politics (The Republic of Venice was a fascinating canvas, with similarities to and differences from to the US and UK.) 5)a supply in jokes, plays on names which are as necessary I suppose as gilding on a pig. But I like them.) and then I write an outline.

And then I write the the book trying to blend these and the characters do what they would do, and screw everything up.

Right now I am wrestling with the unification of Italy, putting Garibaldi out of a job a few centuries on. Trying to find the right mythos. Trying not to get too distracted by one of the other 5 projects bobbing around…

Of course you don’t have to do this. You can wing it. Some people do, very successfully. I’m just not one of them.

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Tossing men out with the bathwater

It’s like watching Cyanide poured into the town drinking water because two rats were seen at a dripping tap. Watching… and keeping your mouth shut and sitting on your hands. Rats carry plague… And whatever the cost, you don’t want to chance being identified with the rats, not even to save the people in the town.

Increasingly we seem to do this. Make rules, decisions, take steps which… actually rarely affect the rats, but ruin our lives, our society, our hopes for a future, our past.

The hell with it all. I daresay this post, misquoted and/or selectively quoted will come back to haunt me for the rest of my life. Nothing dies on the Internet.
Shrug. It needs to be said.

I like children. No, let’s go further, and be honest. I love children, especially my own. In any group, I’m the one you’ll find being mobbed by dogs and kids. And yes, I am a man. Let’s be clear here. I love liver and onions too, and yet no-one assumes I want stick my personal Polyphemus into a steaming hot plateful of it, or that I might keep pictures of it on my computer to quiver over. There almost certainly is some freak out there who does this, but no-one makes that assumption about every bloke who enjoys the dish. I’m heterosexual, but really sexual immaturity has about the same appeal as eating the liver while it’s still part of the live sheep. I like women to have all the bits fully grown (And not being a gay fashion designer, who likes androgynous women if he must put up with women, I like them to look like women.) and know what those bits are, and how they work, and what to do with them. Trust me, unless my own youthful disaster areas were atypical in the extreme, the first time is not likely to be the best, unless it really got dismal after that. Experience is good. (Okay, my own take on this is that a male who wants a lack of experience, is a weakling terrified of comparison. But then I look at old men with young trophy wives and think – ‘what a loser you are, and what a slag she is’. Yes, my wife is two years older than I am.) I’ve no sympathy for those who sexually abuse children, and that drops away to less than none at all when you’re talking about pre-pubescent kids. On the other hand I believe and think the evidence is overwhelming that male affection, care, nurturing, mentoring… of both boys and girls has enormously beneficial outcomes for kids. AND MOST OF IT HAS NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH SEX. The Greeks — who had some mighty odd ideas — said there were many kinds of love (they even had different words for it, which maybe is what we need). Assuming they’re all ‘sexual love’ is to destroy all the others too.

I wonder if anyone ever did the maths. Look at that child sex offenders register. Assume that the capture rate is rotten. 1:100. Hell, say 1:1000, or even 10 000 -over generations. Look at the population – and even just the population to which this refers – where such statistic would exclude rural tribal societies etc… and you’re looking at what sort of percentage of the conservative 1.5 billion males it could apply to? Yes. We’re poisoning the entire water supply to destroy two rats, who probably won’t drink the water. It’s like the stupid rules about pen-knives etc on airliners. So tell me: A bunch of nutbars who think sex with transparent virgins would be better than what they can get otherwise (yes really. Old Mo’s description was not inspiring to normal men.) gets up on tomorrow’s flight to NY and threatens an airliner of passengers with box-cutters (or even machetes) — how many seconds do you think they’ll last? I’ll tell you: slightly more time than they would if most passengers hadn’t been subjected to this idiocy, but not very long. The nutbars worked it out, and they’re stupider than pig-dung, so there have been no more attempts. But it still hasn’t got through to the authorities… And the same applies to ‘all men are pedophiles’. If we were, pedophilia would be a lot more ‘normal’ than homosexuality. It isn’t. We’re excluding so much of value to the kids, often in circumstances where this could be avoided. One of the best ways to my mind anyway, would be to have more men involved with child-related situations, so there would be a group of dads with the camp, rather than making it something where you only get one male who is prepared to jump through the hoops required to teach or whatever(odds increase then, that he’s the clever rat). It needs thought, and takes however more than the kneejerk ‘no knives on airliners’ reaction.

Look: I’m not saying that the problem is to be ignored. I’m all for rat-poison in the holes, and rat-traps and cats and terriers. I’m all for keeping things rats like in rat-proof containers. Hunt down and destroy without mercy or tolerance those who make and put this noxious filth on the Internet. Humiliate and jail the users. Be sensible about sending your daughter – or son, off with a solitary man, or woman (yes, it’s less frequent. It happens. Women do abuse boys, and women do abuse girls, even their own kids. I’d guess it’s going to rise for reasons of our changing society. It will still be a minuscule proportion. But, if you’re a woman, thinking ‘so what: what they lose in male contact is worth their safety’ – down this route in time you’re going also get treated like a criminal for a picture of your baby Jimmy playing in the bath, never mind how often you changed his diaper).

As a writer, the part that worries me is that I’m seeing this creep into writing too. Books like Margaret Mahy’s excellent ‘PIRATE UNCLE’ (where a young boy and his sister are sent off to live with their bachelor uncle, much to the benefit of the kids, the uncle, and the parents) are conspicuously absent in the current generation. Solitary men, in fact men, are seen as ‘the bad guys’. And it does spill through. Men not wanting to be scoutmasters. Men avoiding teaching… It’s curious to have sat on the sidelines while a group of (female) YA writers were discussing sex in their books. Mine are terribly dull, as the Kirkus reviewer who (judging by her ‘rave’ reviews) wanted kinky teen sex for her titillation found, and don’t actually have any. The writers posited that as 50% of girls of, I forget, barely past puberty as far as I was concerned, certainly still immature in mind if not body, were sexually active, it was a norm, and the question was just how much gay, threesome, S&M and/or other variants there should be and how much detail, and explanations on condoms, rubber gloves and dental dams… after all, it was important for these young people not feel left out, isolated and strange… Several things went through my mind (beside my feet, as I landed hard). The first was well, what about the other 50%? And I bet they’re the 50% who read (and, um, I’ll bet most of these writers were in that group too, as teens.) What about that sector feeling left out, isolated, strange because they’re not? You’re not pressuring young, socially insecure humans into accepting your adult norms are you? The second was: unless the world has changed very abruptly, an age gap has always existed in the male choice of post-pubescent girls who haven’t finished maturing yet. When they grow up, partners their own age, or even a little younger are just fine. But judging by my own experiences growing up, and more recently my sons’ and their friends at a co-ed school, girls found enormous status in older boys. 2-5 years was the hunting range, largely, I think because even there, the peer pressure on boys was such that chicken-hawking is seen as the behavior of weaklings (and rightly so IMO). To pull a boy who was at college when you were a scrubby school-brat was a major status symbol, and for a girl to date a younger boy… well, she had to be brave or desperate. So: while some countries have statutory rape provisions excluding relationships between minors or where the age gap is close (South Africa was IIRC 2 years), and taking the 50%… by accepting this 50% as a norm you’re green-lighting child abuse, because a lot of the 50% will be minors, role modelling on what you write, with the sort of partner who likes chicken-hawking. Eugh!

So: here’s my position, what I write and what I’d ask you to think about writing yourselves, or if you’re buying books for younger readers, to target.

1) Adults, regardless of gender, can be decent human beings. Not have to be, but can be. Men or women behaving that way are to be admired and liked.

2) Partners / lovers of more or less your own age are pretty cool. (And yes, if you’re going to get graphic, how to put on a condom, use a dental dam etc… is important. But for heaven’s sake try to insert the concept that if the fancy already knows all the intimate details of these things… they’re probably not exactly your maturity age, and taking advantage.). Mental and maturity parity is important. It’s actually about more than just sex. (It’s why Eric and I sent Goth back in time to where she was older than Pausert in SORCERESS OF KARRES.

The original Schmitz gave me the willies. It’s why in the relationship between Clara and Tim in CUTTLEFISH is based on

developing a respect for each other, and the values of the other, and finding common ground. (Yes, and a grave shortage of angst and sex. Sorry. That’s me.))

3) The sort of ‘target’ (male or female) who will respond to someone a lot younger than themselves isn’t a sign that you’re sexy and mature, it’s a sign that they’re a weakling and a loser, who can’t cut it with their peers. It’s not much of a prize.
Crossposted in Mad Genius Club


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I was struggling with the WIP earlier, and somehow got caught up in this

I was struggling with the WIP earlier, and somehow got caught up in this:

“Nevermore! And my name isn’t Raven either. It’s a sore throat,” croaked the man in the tattered black cloak, flopping down like dropped bladder on the stool. He didn’t quite burst, however.
“That’s what you said last time,” said mine host, dryly.
“My name wasn’t Raven then either. Arrack!”
“Don’t you mean ‘Ark!’ Mister Not-Raven,” said Cybelline, toying with her near-empty glass. There was that brittleness in her voice that said ‘I’m looking for a fight or sex, and I’m not sure which I’d prefer. Help me decide by saying the wrong thing.’
“No. Arrack, Malthias,” he said to barkeeper. He improved his chances. “One for her too.” And then ruined them again. “It’ll stop her wisecracks.” He wasn’t her type anyway. She liked them big, blond, well-dressed, muscular, handsome and attentive. He was small, shapeless in that loose grey shirt, and slumped onto the bar, paying it more attention than her. And he wasn’t what anyone would call handsome. ‘Fine-boned’ would be the kindest, and Cybelline wasn’t one of those. She’d have said that he had a sharp hook nose, a pointed chin and… uncomfortable glittery eyes. The kind she felt saw too much. He was entirely too like the raven that he said he wasn’t. And he’d be the center of attention, not you. She didn’t like that either.
“You like to have the monopoly on those,” said Malthias, taking down a bottle from the top shelf, blowing the dust off the cork. “But you did say ‘nevermore’ last time, Ramarin. You always do.” He took tall glasses out from under the counter, tossed ice in them, pulled the cork with his blunt square teeth, and poured the liquor. The clear fluid went cloudy as it hit the ice, as if it wanted to hide it.
“This time I mean it,”said Ramarin making glass clutching movements with his left hand.
“That’s what you said last time too.” Malthias pushed the glasses across the bar-top. “I wouldn’t drink it if I were you,” he said to Cybelline, who had been about to refuse it. So she couldn’t. She took a sip and wished she had. It stank, not smelled, of anise. The taste was lost in the raw alcohol though.
“Most people thin it out with water,” said Malthias, pushing a jug towards her.
“Ugh. He blasphemed. I heard him,” said the not-raven, his mobile face shrivelling in a rictus of mock disgust. “Water. He said ‘water’, in this very holy place. Wash his mouth out with gin.” At the same time he poured some of the blasphemous stuff into the glass, before drinking at least half of the Arrack in one long gulp.
Cybelline added water, tasted it again, with what of her taste buds had survived. The water hadn’t had much obvious effect on the amount of alcohol. It was, admittedly, more drinkable now. Just.
“And so,” said Malthias leaning forward on the bar, his big head tilted in enquiry “How is our friend General Porknees this time?”
The subject of payment had not arisen, Cybelline noticed. That, considering Malthias normally wanting money up front… was interesting, let alone whoever General Porknees was. But there was a chance she might learn something valuable. And a girl in her position took what was available.
Ramarin snickered nastily. “Having apoplexy, I should think.” He raised the glass in his left hand in a salute.
Malthias smiled. “But otherwise in good health?”
“Sadly, old friend, sadly. He’s never let me get close to him again. I keep trying though.”
“Better luck next time,” said Malthias. His tone said he really meant that. It wasn’t mere polite barman talk. Whoever Porknees was, Malthias hated him.
“I said ‘nevermore.’ And there is something wrong with this glass,” Ramarin announced, holding it up, peering intently at it, a show-man to the core, calling for a response. Not getting one, besides a wry twist of the lip from Malthias.
“What?” asked Cybelline, obliging him, despite herself
“It’s empty.”
It was an experiment in character, setting and the response of the readers to cues. Maybe the start of a story…


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The fool on the hill (sees a little further)

He lay there, blue eyes wide staring into the bright open sky.

“Cover his eyes, for he is dead,” said great man.

There was a pause. A brief breathless moment while we were awash in the horror of it.

The fool wrinkled his broad monkey-like forehead. “Why?” he asked.

“Because he’s dead, Fool!”

The fool stepped away from the cuff he knew would come. “But if he’s dead, covering his eyes won’t make any difference. He can’t see. Covering our eyes would be more to the point. It would stop us seeing him, which would be more useful. Ow!”

“You’re an idiot, Fool!” shouted the great man’s chorus, unsurprisingly, in chorus.

Which might have been true, but it didn’t alter the fact that he was also right.

It’s a bad habit of fools, being right, and not moving far enough out of the way when they are. Still, I have this theory (probably best not expressed in the presence of ‘great people’) that the fool has the right of most of time simply because he does not look at in the same way, and, unimpeded by the status quo group-vision, sometimes sees the emperor’s undercarriage… Which has three side effects: 1)the emperor doesn’t like it. 2)Nor do all the people who told the emperor how beautiful his clothes were. 3)The possible saving to the economy – in not paying shedloads of money of nothing, and spending it on something productive are huge.

Whether you apply this to writing, the economy, science or how to get out of being the first over top of the trenches, it’s the third one that counts. Of course the first two will be doing their best to swat you or shut you up… or trying hard to ignore you.

The trouble of course is that there are fools who are wrong too.

My own touchstone is if we all know it is true, then we ought to look at it again, from a different perspective, because we’re probably wrong. A good scientist QUESTIONS everything. It’s only true when proven, and then it’s only true until disproven, which you ought to be trying to do. (When I hear of ‘consensus’ science, I wonder if the chorus can harmonize too). I’ve tried to apply this to my writing (My friend Bolg thinks like this too.

Therefore according to my impeccable logic, it is the product of gravity. Tall people, (which largely excludes children, dwarves and me) perhaps have a problem pumping blood all that way up, which is why they’re a bit dizzy and think even if the emperor looks naked, it must be their eyesight. I thin we need to apply it to economics too. If the great men think printing money, or cutting public spending, or relying on China are the answer, then they probably aren’t. The same at a smaller commercial scale applies to the latest thing out of Amazon. Amazon Author Rank appears to have received the accolade of as near universal condemnation from all the great ones and the loyal chorus. The fool suspects that means Amazon are on to something. After all, the NYT bestseller list is based (so they tell us) on anonymous and supposedly widely sourced data from a lot of bookstores, and wholesales who retail to other outlets… And has: 1) reputedly been cooked before 2)As we don’t know the methodology is hard to check – but we know some very popular books never make it, and books which don’t sell that many copies (17K hardback was reputed to get you onto the extend list, according to a friend who got there on that) 3)We know Bookscan data is pretty close to GIGO – so it’s hard to see where the NYT would get better data.

Locus lists suffers from shall we say the same data problem, the Wall St Journal list relies on Bookscan (which may report 1/3 and 2/3… depending on the book, where it sells and rather odd data capture.)

If the NYT bestseller list is that accurate… Amazon Author Rank won’t affect bestsellers. If the two differ it will be… interesting. They’re also running a top 100, which may give a far better, wider picture of what is being read.

I’d like to see all of the distributors follow suit. (Curiously, I am seeing a big fall off in my Amazon sales, but a commensurate pick-up in sales elsewhere. Things are changing. This may be why Amazon is trying this. Or not) And then someone put together a summary list.

It’s a data-mine, and mined right could make an author (or publisher or retailer) rich and successful.

Or just the Fool on the hill, seeing a little further.

Crossposted at Mad Genius Club

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The treatement and cure for Nasty Bloodsucking Parasitic Parrots

Whenever people talk about politics they seem to get bogged down in minutiae. Let’s step back and look at what politics is, and why it exists at all.

It should be obvious looking at the root of the word – poly as many (or a badly spelled parrot) and tics as in involuntary jerks or spasms or possibly badly spelled nasty blood-sucking parasites. Now that we understand this our grasp of the antics of politicians is suddenly much more clear. But besides producing many nasty parroting blood-sucking parasitic people who can’t help being jerks, the purpose of politics is to decide on governance. On who controls and orders society (or a part of it) – AKA government.

Now let’s look at the purpose of government – besides providing an environment for nasty bloodsucking parasitic parrots – AKA NBPP. As far as the NBPP are concerned that is its first and foremost purpose. Never forget this. It is key to our understanding and getting the best out of them. Of course originally back in the high and far off times (more recently for me than most of you, which is why I remember it so clearly, when we were still monkeys) Government outside of the family group arose from the need to defend ourselves from the bigger family next door – otherwise they were inclined kill the males, eat them, and take the females to breed with and eat their food. And as offense made your family bigger, to organize raids on suitable targets for the same. It is questionable whether at its core government has changed much from this. Of course some bright monkey figured two families could do better together against a third and thus the arms race was born, leading to where we are now. Several sf authors have suggested that what we need is a common enemy…

Back in those days the organizing was done by the biggest nastiest monkey in the troop, and his camp followers – who because they got eat better and get eaten less, which is a serious advantage. It was mostly done by bite and swat, but also with reward or offers thereof. At the top it was almost inevitably male because they’re bigger and nastier. Once again, none of this has changed much, and maybe we need to think about changing it.

This led to autocrats – kings, Chieftains – with their clique of courtiers/ elders / camp followers running the show, with for solid genetic reason said head honcho doing his level best to put his bloodline on top and keep it there. The same applied to courtiers/camp-followers, who wanted that privilege for their genetic heritage – or the head honcho’s job. And thus was born the system of NBPP. Remembering this – they’re fighting for the top job, or at least to be in camp-followers, not you, or the people or society. What they did – be it get the ordinary folk to build a stockade together or harvest together (which would benefit all of them, was – no matter what bullshit they came up with (AKA rewards and offers thereof, offers being cheaper and easier) was to keep themselves at the top. Over time the offers got bigger, and sometimes even partially fulfilled, but bite and swat got moved up to a lot worse too.

In conflict with all this (and this is at the root of modern democracy was a set of behaviors as old or older, ‘fair’ (which is not ‘equal’ but meritocratic. That can be equal, but isn’t always.) which all social species need to some extent to survive. It’s well recorded and demonstrated among various monkey species, and obviously ties into an earlier evolved concept – reciprocity (which we can see in all sorts of species – where they figure doing X will get you Y and somewhere the leap got made – if you want Y do X. It’s a vast leap. Many people still haven’t got it, proving Border Collies are a lot smarter than they are. That’s why I made one the hero in Dog and Dragon – but that is another matter. Obviously most of politics and governance isn’t ‘fair’ and all sorts of deceptions are employed to try and make it look like it is – be it ‘by divine right’, or ‘the people elected me’. It’s only when these fail and it looks like the head honcho and his camp-follower courtiers might find themselves first course in the new tribal feast (or at least deposed or dead), that NBPP start on horse-trading towards a fair deal. Being the nice people they are that often comes down to ‘we’ll make you junior camp followers, and give you pretties (less than we give ourselves, but more than we give other people who want us for entrees) if you keep the would-be chefs off our throats. Occasionally it rises above this to make things more fair and meritocratic, but not if they can avoid it. The system is evolved to not select that kind of leader or courtiers.

Governance, to my jaundiced eye, is best viewed as an eternal conflict between the general populace seeking a fairer more meritocratic system and the NBPP wanting to keep themselves where they want to be. All systems of government derive from this.

Over time, as some of us moved from monkey to less monkey, and the groups of families grew bigger all of this got more and more complex, and we lost sight in the trees of the wood, we did try various options on this. The Greeks from which we draw much of Western Civilization tried a fair number – feudal, dictatorship, military repression, qualified democracy (no slaves or women need apply), timocracy (read PYRAMID SCHEME). (Sf tried a few more. Sprauge de Camp and Heinlein particularly spring to mind. Had to love de Camp’s ideas, the drunken council and sober council being one I found delightful. It seems to have died out, with only socialism and condemnation of what is called capitalism and a few autocratic theocracies, getting a look in now. Oh and space-faring heriditary autocracy (Some, as in Hoyt’s Darkship Thieves have basis in logic. Others are fantasy dressed up as sf, and delusions of what nobility and empire are.)

Modern Democracy rests on an equal right to vote – conflating equal with ‘fair’ and allowing no measure of merit. It’s obviously a bit of a con, because even monkeys have no trouble getting the concept of merit not always meaning equal. But it’s better than the autocracy (which, by in large is the alternative. If we ever got enough space to be safe from being dinner, anarchy has merits. Socialism BTW is a con job, purporting to be more fair by apportioning reward more equally but sans merit (unless you are one NBPP in which case the rewards are much bigger. Surprise).

What obviously is wrong with democracy is that it is viewed by so many as an end point. One simply has to look at our elected leaders (pick one, any one) and realize that if this is an end point, it surely doesn’t work that well.) And by so many as a one way street. You get a vote by being a citizen (or pretending to be one) – not something which required much merit if you were born there. And as party democracy has largely degenerated into lobby groups and pretties for camp-followers… which usually boils down to we’ll take from those who aren’t in our camp and thus do better (which, surprise, is back where it all started.)

Hmm. As I wrote in STARDOGS the logical answer is surely to accept that government and those in it will always become principally self-serving and for the benefit of government. The only way to win in the sense of a fairer more meritocratic system that benefits the society and not just the government… is to make Government’s reward directly the result of doing a better job. One of my friends suggested that democracy should have an entry and exit poll with the electorate being able vote for the departing polly and the number of votes = bonus. But that would still come down to hand out the pretties to as many as possible, by taking from who wouldn’t vote for you anyway, rather than necessarily any improvement in the society. Some kind of short and long term reward which is not just based on popularity but hard metrics. For instance a basic salary based on the MEDIAN per capita GDP, and a bonus -or clawback – based on the difference between start time and now. And for a long term effect you could make that affect their pension. Obviously these things have no impact on multi-millonaires going into the process or on them getting kickbacks or sweetheart directorships or jobs afterwards from lobbyists etc. So you’d have to deal with that. The other issue, of course, is making the voters liable in some way for the action of their representative. You’d think a lot more carefully and vote a lot more thoughtfully, if you personally would carry either a profit or loss from it. And then there is the question of merit – we need universal suffrage… but are all votes really equal? Is the vote a reward, or a duty, or a punishment? Maybe 1 vote basic, a second for those who have served the community/society? Maybe another for… I don’t know, paying taxes. Philanthropy. Tertiary education? And becoming a five vote person recognized with a title of some sort, or better pension or tax break or something, making it a measure of merit to be striven for.

This is what sf ought to be exploring in the future worlds we write about. Not the stale stuff.


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Fiat – let there be…

I see Iran has imitated Zimbabwe by pegging the rate of rial. Yes, that worked well didn’t it? Well, in a manner of speaking if you were a ruling party politician or had the connections it did. You’re still in power, and you’ve effectively transferred almost all the money held by those not in your position to you to play ducks-and- drakes with, without adding any work or value. Of course it destroyed the economy, left the roads and infrastructure deteriorating towards Somalia, and sent maybe 1/3 of the people into exile, caused a vast spike in infant mortality, starvation, dropped the average lifespan. But if you were in power… it worked.

This is how it will work: the official rate from government outlets – at which foreign currency in time will be available only to those with ‘special licenses’ or some such franking of their right to hold and use foreign currency legally – those with connections in other words – will not match the real rate at all. Very shortly expect it to be illegal to hold foreign currency at all (if this isn’t true already). The Government will print however as many rials it needs… Which in theory will work for a while in a large mostly self-sufficient internal market (China for example) but not on a very import dependent one. Everyone, from your upright and law abiding cousin Joe, to the ratbags in politics (but not in power) will be willing, indeed desperate to give you multiples of the official rate in rials for a dollar or a pound or even a Cowrie shell. The well-connected (possibly with a bogus import export company so he needs forex)… will exchange rials for dollars at the official rate. He will then sell those dollars at the black market rate, quite possibly making 1000% profit. He then takes those rials back and swaps them for more dollars at the official rate, which he then sell on the black market and returns to buy more rials… No work, no risk and vast vast profit. The state, desperate for more dollars to give him, confiscates all incoming forex… and gives out rials in exchange at the official rate – which the recipient (unless he’s well-connected) can’t change back into a currency that anyone else will accept offshore to do business with. So if he exports raw materials… like dates, he can keep getting rials for which he can buy some (diminishing) local goods – for a little while until inflation destroys that. If he imports and sells he’s going bust or going crooked. Or pushing his prices up as much as he can to buy forex on the black market from the well-connected.

Hyperinflation, and the destruction of all savings held in that currency must follow… well or the state can mandate the prices. Except then there is none for sale, because it costs more than the trader can sell for.

‘Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch’ I hear you think. Except of course the people it does and will affect are not the rulers. They’re just about everyone else, with the intelligensia and those with technical and commercial skills which are transferable getting out, leaving those who can’t – the old, the poor, those who love the country or their bit of land – to survive or die. Oh the boss-folk and those who appease them enough to keep sweet but alive can do quite well off the carcase. For a while.

It does expose the value of ‘fiat money’ though. Which is to say its worth… more or less as much as the labor/product of people using it can be taxed for. Or how much anyone will give you for that. In the short term, for their own interests that can be worth much more labour/product of the country divided by the total number of rials/dollars/pounds printed. Right now, a dollar is in Tehran (you can buy more goods with a dollar than a dollar is actually worth – which pushes up, at least temporarily, the value of the dollar) China has been propping the value of the dollar for a while – which both has and hasn’t helped the US (in the long term, hasn’t IMO. But it’s been good for the carpetbaggers).

Of course the real value of fiat money is never enough for any government. And then they print more, effectively both selling off future value, and trying for the quick con (ie. use it to buy x before the seller of x realizes that it’s worth slightly less. It’s on the level of honesty of using clipped coins.) The seller hastily tries to repeat the process, eventually coming down to shorting the poor honest fellow whose savings got eaten by inflation. Basically it’s conned money, which as often as not is turned into pretties for voters / supporters, enough of whom aren’t savers to like this. We’ve set up a selection criteria which ensures Government is by definition a bunch of sharpies out to look after themselves, and then wonder why they turn out to be a bunch of sharpies who are out look after themselves.

Money – and systems of government(but that is another post subject) that don’t do this – have been obvious targets for sf for dun-a-meny years. It’s fallen out of fashion, lately, because well, most sf publishing is firmly pro-establishment now (someone needs to explain to modern American liberals that establishment is not = conservative, or right wing. Establishment is the bunch in power. And that means power at the level which affects you. In Iran the eye-owe-tollies are the establishement, in China the CCP is. In more democratic countries the parties in parlimentary power are, and usually to the point that it doesn’t matter that much who is in power per se, their backers are – and the backers will often be the same people regardless of the party). The establishment is pretty keen on keeping the con going, so they have money for those pretties, and will not thank those who point out it’s a con. That hasn’t stopped Douglas Adams or Sir Terry Pratchett doing it, but it’s not ‘avant garde’ or ‘groundbreaking’ (it is really of course, far more than endlessly recycled feminism, which usually gets that label).

Still, it’s been stuff of interesting ideas – especially as most bright people realize fiat is just not going to work as is. The concept of energy units seems worth looking at, as do ideas of using various resources as a guarantor of the paper you use as exchange means (until of course some beggar comes up with with matter transmutation or a cheap way to get lots of energy.) Labor is another (I think Eric Frank Russell used the concept of ‘obligations’. There has seldom been a more wildly revolutionary writer. Barter is of course something that works and always will. (Gold is an odd one. It’s really not much use.) Immortality (well, years of life-extention) was a rather neat Pratchett one. Concepts of services like defense and medical help are ones I’d like to work on in future books.

The mechanism I’ve quietly used in some of my work is the basic foundation of fiat money: trust. It’s the coinage which needs to be backed by integrity, and once debased never gains its value again, short of very harsh medicine.

I wonder when that will be painfully explained to governments?


Filed under economics, philosophy, politics, science Fiction, Uncategorized

The finity of pie

This was inspired by some one of current sf establishment wondering if sf had run out of space…was exhausted.

One of the logical fallacies underlying publishing and its uncomfortable relationship with authors is ‘the pie is only so big. You can’t have any more.’

Not only does this start with the ‘we’ve decided who gets pie’ – which might be fine if they could say they got it right (and I say this as someone who probably has had them get it wrong… in my favor.), but it also has the sad effect of making authors — at least some of them, squabble among themselves about who gets pie at all, and how a big slice.

Also it is of course, crap. There is – at the moment anyway, a finite number of readers. That pool is only a tiny fragment of the pool of those who can read. And that pool is a fraction of the pool potential readers. Take Harry Porry… er Potter – even after movies and the vast publicity spend… 450 million sales in total, call it 65 million people per book. World population – 6.9 billion-ish. And lets be taking 4 readers per copy average (which is an overestimate as some people will have bought PB and HC – and not lent it out all) and that cancels out the library readers. But let’s be generous… 96 percent of humans have not read the bestselling book. Yes,the poor, the illiterate, the stupid, the people who don’t read kids books, etc. But single bestselling book reached about – let’s call it for ease of calculation at least 200 million readers, worldwide. That’s a call on the minimum size of the pool of readers (at least of a MG fantasy). Even if you assume that only 1/4 of those were English language sales, that’s 50 million… Which does make a bit of a joke of print runs of 5K. That’s oh… 0.01% coverage. Or 99.99 % unreachable. Or put another way, there is one book possibly available to every 10 000 proven readers. If you book happens be MG fantasy (and probably has a sell-through of 50%)… you got 1:20 000 chances to make that connection. That’s without getting to the ‘hard to mine’ reserves which are so vast that to the average writer, they may as well be infinite.

The issue of course is that we’re still massively inefficient at putting readers together with the writers that they’ll like. My own version of future prediction is that this will get steadily better, and sales numbers will drop for runaway bestsellers and rise for everyone else. We’re just too different to all love the same books. I can read HP, but I would barely cross the road to pick up a copy. I’d cross half a continent to pick up a new Pratchett. For others, this will be different again. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll start to mine those vast reserves locked away in other languages and illiteracy. I draw the line at stupidity. Hopefully I can leave appealing to stupid to others, and there is a line below which stupid is just too darn dumb to read. But maybe we can fix that one day too. Insert Bambolweeni microbrains or something.

It’s an argument, IMO, that translates well into almost everything else, and possibly better. I read ‘Peak’ this and at the rate we consume we’ll need another 2 earths etc… And think ‘just run this past me slowly again’? Take oil. “We’re at peak oil.”… Well no. We’re not. We may possibly be at peak easily recoverable by present methods cheap fossil (possibly-we don’t really know) known reserves of oil. But we’re a long way from out of the muck. And even if we were… We can produce it in the lab, we can get it out of microbes and algae. And that’s with what we know now. In 300 years time they may look at us like we do at spermaceti candles, and ask just why we bothered.

And that’s without getting adventurous and fetching it from the hydrocarbon lakes on Titan.

I can see the relays clicking over in your heads. “That’s rich coming from you! You’re an arch-conservationist. You even recycle toilet paper.”

That’s actually moderately inaccurate, and I barely ever have toilet paper on the washing line. I choose to live a life with a high level of self-sufficiency. Part of that is desire, part of it necessity (I still derive most of my income from commercial publishing, and don’t sell enough copies of Bolg
to tell them to depart for places unknown), and part of it genetics, and part of is nurture. I’ve never seen the need to be prodigal with anything, and excessive consumption — especially conspicuous consumption — for the sake of consumption always struck me as being being so mind-blowingly stupid and wasteful that I don’t need to go there. Yes. I know. That makes 95% of the human race stupid and wasteful, and the other 5% just have no chance to be. There are degrees in this, and I do it too. Moderation in all things, including the recycling of toilet paper – we consume, we want better and more, and we imitate. And yes, I do rate most of the so called upper echelon of society, our socialites, celebrities, business leaders and politicians as a bit dumb and rather inadequate because they need to do this. We haven’t really to evolved better new ways establish status in the super-tribes. Back in the natural size group of humans – pretty small, probably maxing out at around our ‘personal ID’ point of knowing individuals (IIRC that’s something like 120?) you knew who the good, the brave, the kind, the ones who fathered kids and never provided dinner for them, The ones who were funny, the ones whose cave-wall graffiti was really hilarious, the ones who always got meat, were. And that told us who we wanted follow, sleep with, and avoid were. Now, especially in huge aggregations of people we rely on the signs of these things, sometimes even to tell ourselves we’re the coolest etc. because we can buy a new Gucci wig, or at least that we’re not losers because we too have a new Gucci wig. Labels obsession is in my opinion the lowest form of this pack following. It’s the same root as the uniform and groupthink come from, and it’s not really for me. I like to think for myself and judge things and people on their merit, not their glitzy shoes. That is harder, but really it’s worth more their shoes.

I am a writer and naturally I see translate into my industry too. Harry Potter was at least in part merely a uniform. Yes, it wasn’t no fun to wear, had appealing characters, used themes (boarding school adventures/ magic) to things which have wide appeal especially to teens (unlike her latest offering which has, I gather a lot in common with a bowl of cold sick in the appeal stakes, but is very PC and very litterwherewee). But what we saw was – at least in part – driven by a desire to be ‘in’. Younger people (and a fair number of the less-than-young) are very uncertain about status and like to be the same as the everyone else (even if they’d rather read Star Wars or Diana Wynne Jones or 50 Spades of Grey) Still, I’m not knocking it, it got a lot of kids to read who thought it uncool before. But the point is while it got a lot of kids to read, it wasn’t the perfect match in all those cases. If it was, those kids would translate into a huge book-a-week pie of total book addicts. And those are just the smallest possible piece of the whole pie.

So there is my philosophy -part of what I try to slip into my books. It’s bigger than you can possibly use. And if you can use it to the point it’s noticeable… there is always something else.

We live in universe of infinite possibilities. All that’s holding us back is ourselves… and sometimes a bit of group-think. As writers we want to help each other up, not worry that others will take our place or that we’ve got to fit in.

Exhausted. ha. There is always more.
(cross posted on Mad Genius Club)


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Being a victim does not always equal being a good guy

I was thinking I should start putting some of the philosophical, sociological and moral issues I tend to think about, and possibly how they impact on my books in here.

It’ll probably make for boring reading.

One of the more difficult lessons I had to get my head around, growing up, was the concept that victims aren’t necessarily good. Or nice.

They’re just victims (or underdogs, or choose your word.).

I grew up in Apartheid South Africa, and had would have been considered a very (and I use this next word knowing it means different things in different places. It’s been usurped to mean anything but what it did, once) liberal education (not the Neo-liberal statist stuff that seems to get called ‘Liberal’ in the US now), with parents who didn’t support the system… and the contact I had with the underdogs in this system… as a result tended to be rather nice people, often bright and suffering from the discrimination that they were subject to. Then I left my fairly sheltered school environment and went to work and the army. Work – where I was a clerk on the railway, filling in the few months before the army… taught me that a lot of my fellow ‘white’ South Africans were a lot stupider than I’d realized, and lot more unpleasant. Not all of them, true. A few had been trapped in the need to earn a living, and a relatively easy road to nowhere. The army – I was conscripted into the medical corps, which was considered one of the ‘elite’ postings, as everyone had year 12/matric and we had a lot of graduates too, actually probably reinforced the victim=good person stereotype, although I did start to realize that people I liked weren’t necessarily good, and ones I couldn’t stand or agree with, could be. University did little to change the idea that somehow all the 35 million (at that stage) people of other designated racial origins besides European, were decent blokes I’d like, who had merely been deprived of opportunity, or they’d be just like me. Yep. I was very idealistic. Still am, I suppose, but I had real rose tinted glasses and blinkers then. I had however got the idea, firmly, that most of those ‘Europeans’ were as varied a crop as possible, good, bad, hardworking, lazy, illogical, moral, perverted etc… and all possible mixtures of that. That a certain percentage – probably around 20%, could and would do great things given the opportunity. That about another 30% could improve their lot slightly with some input, and that 30% wouldn’t sink into barbarism with a gradually increasing amount of effort. And 20% were stupid/so set in their ways / so despising of anything better or even different that all the opportunity (and there was a fair bit for ‘white’ South Africans, back then. They had every possibility with a little effort, except a long term future) all efforts for them were a complete waste.

It took getting out to work in rural Africa on a fish-farm near Hoedspruit in the then Eastern Transvaal (a place, where, IMO if they need to give world an enema, would the right place to put the pipe) to finally get me to see things in a different light(yep, more idealism. We were going to produce affordable good quality protein for less well off people. And at the same time make a living, provide work in a depressed area etc. The owner of the place was probably more idealistic than I was, and gifted with much more money. Compared to any other farm in the district the effort and money that went into staff and housing and support was enormous. The difference between my wage, as the manager, and the senior workers by the time you threw in all the perks was about 25%. Lord, we were trying so hard…)

I’ve never been suited to being an overseer who sat in the shade and occasionally came and had a yell. So I got in with them and worked myself to exhaustion every day, doing the work of 3 men, and 10 of my ‘workers’.

I expected them to respect this, to follow my lead. It had worked in the army. Worked at sea…

They hated my guts. I loved what I was doing, believed in it. I loved fish, and working. I thought it was a great opportunity… They didn’t. Anyway, that’s another story, another life-lesson.

I was there for two years, working next to them, going into their compound and being immersed in the situation. They adapted to me and I to them. I can’t claim I won them over, but they did teach me something enormously valuable. The region was pretty much a sink area, with most black men who had any get-up-and-go… having got up and went, so that did skew things a bit. But I did come realize I had been completely wrong. Victim-of-Apartheid did NOT necessarily equal ‘good guy’. In fact, if a miracle had changed the skin color of the workers on farm and put them in another world where they had precisely the same advantages and opportunities as every other person… if there been a dole, 50 % of them would have been on it, and continued to beat the crap out of their wives, pissing most of the money against the wall and being their charming selves. If there wasn’t, they’d have been manual laborers doing as little as possible no matter what the reward was, and still beating the crap out of their wives for late suppers or whatever. They were the bogans or rednecks or whatever your local term is for it, too stupid, hidebound, despising of anything but their own way to ever change. And seeing as they were the dominant group, they tended to break down anything any of the others tried to do. As victims, they were more than happy to victimize others. Seemed to enjoy it in fact. Far from using their position of relative privilege to build others up, they used to exploit the surrounding workers on other farms, the women who gravitated to the money and better living conditions the farm provided and tried to maintain, despite them. The other 50%, well, about 40% of them did improve their lot slightly, although it was dragged down by the PTB in that community. Given the miracle transfer, some of them would have ended up in lower middle-class employments (remember this was a sink area). They were decent enough people, just somewhat trapped by circumstances. They weren’t lost rocket scientists, but a few might have been foremen or happy as in charge of the meat section of the local supermarket. They didn’t have any realistic aspirations (yes they wanted to live like Americans on TV.) And the other 10%… were really victims, who given that new world with decent opportunity and no discrimination… would have done well. One had managed to teach himself basic electronics and made a fair bit extra fixing radios and minor electrical goods – with 4 years of not very great education – what he could have done with a good education!? Another few would have at least managed some kind of degree at University. I learned focus what I could do on the top 50%, and use the top 10 of that to help them, and me. And I learned, oddly, that victims are actually no different to anyone else. They’re just as human, just as likeable, just as obnoxious. And in many cases they treat other victims just as badly. Roughly the same proportions would do the same things – some of which are pretty vile. Sometimes of course the circumstances of their victimhood so color everything that it becomes central, and sometimes an aspect of what has been done stops them being like everyone else. A man who has never learned to read, or is too poor to even afford a place to sleep cannot download internet porn, because he can’t use a computer – so in that way those in that position would not be as likely to do this as the average human. But given the opportunity and taught… they still average the same. But that far from common or spread right across the entire spectrum of day-to-day life. Yes, if you’re beaten and starved and raped it can warp you totally… but it appears that even that doesn’t have to.

I’ve used this several books and stories. Notably my villain in CRAWLSPACE (which for some reason isn’t available on Amazon. I’ve asked Eric and have as yet, no reply) Laggy, Laguna is a former slave = victim… but as the story reveals that hasn’t instantly made him a nice guy. It’s also something I try to handle as the moral ambivalence and good in this respect, complete prick in that that I used in A MANKIND WITCH – where my hero starts anyway as a victim, who is also complete son-of-a-bitch… with a side that gradually circumstances and his reaction to the heroine bring out. He’ll always be something of a SOB. But hopefully his good side outweighs it.


Filed under philosophy, politics

I’ve lax about posting here for a while. Part of it has been exhaustion, and some depression about writing, I suppose. Anyway. Life moves on. I’ve just had a rush through the CE for The steam Mole (fair warning the pic below is a link to the Amazon page. Clicking on it and if you decided to buy it I get an extra 6%

I’ve also finished and put two more Bolg stories up on Smashwords and now the first is up on Amazon too. The next should not be far behind it.

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